Our society has done a wonderful job scaring everyone about rates of childhood obesity. I haven't delved into the research myself and really looked at the extent to which children are at higher weights/BMIs, etc., but I feel confident that the way our society is responding to any issues that might be present is not that beneficial. Parents are learning they need to restrict their child's food intake and access to food. They are advised by doctors, therapists, and the media, to limit what their child has access to and control food intake.
But let's think about this. Go back to being a child or teenager. Think of what happened when your parents told you you couldn't do something, and particularly when they told you you couldn't do something that all your friends were doing. Right, you rebelled against that, or at least thought about it.
So, when, as a parent, you try to limit your child's access to soda, fast food, pizza, "junk food," etc., the greater risk is that you will accomplish pushing your child towards those foods as they fight back against the restriction. The diet industry, and thus most health professionals, will identify all these foods as "bad." We are instructed to not eat them, and it is implied that it is "bad" if we do. The shame is compounded when it is then implied that to allow access to these foods is "bad" and that having a child eat these foods, especially when they more than society says is idea is "bad." That's a lot of "bad"s, for both parent and child.
It is true that not all foods offer the same nutritional value. Yes, there are limits, and sometimes significant limits, to the nutritional value of the foods that have been identified as bad. However, these foods are present in our world, and the black and white view of "don't eat them" isn't very likely to work out well. So what is a parent to do instead?
Rather than focusing heavily on the foods that your child is eating, focus instead on their hunger and fullness level. Kids are born intuitive eaters. Your babies and young children ate intuitively. They asked for food when they were hungry, and they stopped eating when they were full. They didn't have the neuroses we adults have about foods because, to kids, food is just food. However, as they grow up in our culture and hear about good and bad foods, and external forces begin to impact when they start and stop eating, they lose their ability to follow their hunger and fullness cues. Telling your child she has to eat everything on her plate overrides her fullness cues. Telling your child he cannot eat, or cannot eat ____ when he's hungry overrides his hunger cues. But you can help your kids go back to those cues by talking to them not about the food, but instead about how hungry and full they are.
How does this look? You are concerned your child is overeating, so you ask him whether he's still hungry. If he says yes, you cannot know for sure whether that is the truth, but you can know that you are helping him to think about that factor. Over time, he is more likely to think about this variable when he is making food choices. It will help if this is how you approach food yourself so it is modeled for your child.
It's not as much about what he/she is eating, but the physical cues that are driving the eating behavior. If you focus on what and how much he/she eats, your child is more likely to feel criticized and blamed, particularly if he/she actually is eating due to hunger! Certainly, have foods with high nutritional value available to your kids, and serve these foods. But, I think we all know that there are times when fast food is what is most available, and really, in the end, fast food is a source of protein, carbs, fat, and more so recently, fruits and vegetables. So, it doesn't have to be a big deal. It's not ideal to eat them all the time, but reality is that it also is not a good idea to eat broccoli all the time (I don't know why; I always pick on broccoli! I just have a vendetta against that little green tree....) Eating any one source of food repeatedly limits nutrition, so eat fast food, and broccoli, as part of a varied diet, and you will be fine.
I hope, moving forward, parents will question more trying to limit their child's food intake. I have seen this result in a variety of eating problems, and what is sad is that it is all well-intended and parents are directed to take these steps by health professionals. Again, remember that your babies and young children were intuitive eaters. Help them return to that if our society has overridden this natural way of being.